Article by: Sebastian Kitchen
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The Ultimate Urban Circulator would deploy autonomous vehicles onto the current Skyway route and expand into other neighborhoods and developments.
(TNS) — The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is moving into the development phase of replacing the aging Skyway rail system with autonomous vehicles that could reach Brooklyn, Riverside and the sports complex anchored by EverBank Field. The JTA Board of Directors voted unanimously Thursday to move into the development phase of what the staff is calling the Ultimate Urban Circulator, which would deploy the driverless vehicles onto the current Skyway route and expand into other neighborhoods and developments.
JTA has arranged with a driverless vehicle manufacturer for a demonstration March 8 at Intuition Ale Works. JTA executives have been in discussions with multiple vendors and this demonstration will be an opportunity for those in the community to ride and learn more about the vehicles.
Brad Thoburn, JTA vice president of planning, development and innovation, said the staff would now develop a conversion plan, create a pilot program, and develop a station in Brooklyn. He said the staff must also reach out to the business community and other stakeholders to ensure there is community support. The staff, working with state and local leaders, must also develop a funding strategy.
The JTA opted to replace the Skyway because maintaining and expanding the current system is increasingly expensive. It does not have a timeframe or projected cost for moving forward with the revamped system.
“AV technology is the most flexible, cost effective approach” to modernizing the system in Jacksonville, Thoburn said.
Thoburn and other JTA officials have said the authority has a unique opportunity with the aging Skyway system, the current elevated structure that would allow part of the system to operate above Jacksonville streets, and the rapidly developing autonomous vehicle technology. Thoburn envisions the proposed system operating both on the current elevated Skyway structure and on city streets in expanded service areas.
Two citizens who utilize Jacksonville public transportation spoke during the Thursday meeting and asked the board members to include disabled riders in the conversation as they move forward with the revamped Skyway and the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center, the future hub for JTA and its transportation system that is under construction.